Marriage on Demand by Susan Fox
(Harl. Rom. #3696, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-03696-5
Rena Lambert, Abner Lambert’s only child, has just been handed a decree by her harsh, unfeeling father. He has no intention of leaving her the Lambert ranch when he dies. Instead, she will marry neighboring rancher Ford Harlow, and Abner will bequeath the land to her sons - if she has any. If not, he’ll leave the ranch to a couple of the hands. Harlow expects Rena to show up for dinner at seven to discuss the matter. If this weren’t bad enough, Abner then verbally abuses her:

“Folks already talk. You’re a mannish woman with no natural feelings. Men don’t want a woman who’s better at being a man than she is a female.”

Instead of any kind of natural reaction, say, something akin to “Screw you, Pops, and the horse you rode in on”, Rena meekly bows to her father’s demands. After all, her mother died when Rena was a baby, so it’s natural her father would hate her, right? Anyway, Rena has been casting shy, longing glances at Ford Harlow for as long as she can remember. This handsome rancher actually wants to marry her? Well, it is for the land, she remembers.

Ford has his own reasons for agreeing to the marriage. He’s been interested in Rena for a while, but didn’t know how to break through her shyness. They can make a go of it, he reasons.

We’re told Rena is a talented horse trainer and one assumes she could find a job as such. Yet this woman spends four-fifths of the story letting the men in her life boss her around. She speaks softly. She’s meek. She blushes a lot and is shy. Basically, she’s a mouse. By the time she learns to roar (well, more like a loud squeak) I had long since lost interest in her. It’s not until the end of the book, when nasty ol’ Dad checks out of the story for good, that Rena stands up for herself, and she never does confront the one man who really deserved it - her father. Major letdown.

Ford is a kind hero, who only makes one or two missteps on the road to pursuing Rena. He’s basically the first man in her life who has been kind to her, so it’s not hard to imagine her falling in love with him. This had me squirming a bit. There was a bit of “puppy-love” overtone to the story, as if Rena was pathetically grateful that any man would take an interest in her. It made for some uncomfortable reading. Ford has his work cut out for him to convince his new wife that he actually cares for her.

Marriage on Demand isn’t a bad story by any means, but readers had better have a high tolerance for meek heroines or it’s likely to be more irritation than pleasure. Proceed with caution.

--Cathy Sova

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